It’s Sunday night and the sink is piled up with dishes plastered with leftover pasta and greens. There’s pots with crusted cheese sauce that’ll need a jackhammer to break through and a countertop that’s stained like a preschool art table. I’m better off to throw out the pot, but then there’s the financial woes that immediately races through my brain of doing something so irrational. The stench from the filthy washwater is starting to get to me, so I furiously toss everything in the dishwasher only to realize I’m out of detergent. My son’s in the livingroom, several feet away in our tiny one bedroom apartment, with the sound of his video game cranked up on the television speaker like it’s a Guns n Roses concert, while I’m desperately holding in my pee, because I still need to prepare his lunch for school the next morning and figure out something for the school bake sale. Meanwhile, my head’s racing with thoughts flashing of my upcoming workweek from hell: reports are due, meetings to be conducted and sixteen hour days are inevitable. Then, I have to figure out what to prepare for dinner this week. The fridge is empty because I somehow didn’t have the time to stop off at the supermarket because I was too busy worrying about the funny sound my car was making this past week. How timely, I kept saying to myself.
This was life for me as a single dad over a decade ago, except it wasn’t just on Sunday nights. Coming up for air was a luxury for me. Some would call that a vacation. In the mix of all this, I still needed to be a positive role model for my son, but how could I keep it together? Often I’d worry about what kind of future I would be able to provide my son if I wasn’t present for him, but instead worrying and chasing to keep up with life.
It certainly wasn’t easy by any stretch, and I only have the one child. By some miracle, perseverance or a combination of both, I managed to white knuckle those difficult years. Somewhere in the mix, I forgot the most important piece of the organized chaos; looking after myself.
It’s so easy to forget about ourselves when we’re looking after others, or worrying about our future. We forget to slow down our thoughts, when we have the opportunity (or what I call micro-moments for self-care) throughout the day.
Mind you, I’m sitting from a chair today as a survivor of all this, but not because I’ve earned a right of passage, but because I developed the tools for better coping.
When our brain’s focused on the present moment, life miracuously becomes manageable, even for a brief second. Give it a try. At this very moment, I’d like you to only think about what you are doing now (not later and not before this, but now). Likely, what you’re doing now is just reading this or doing absolultely nothing. Relish in that brief moment of now. Can you feel your worries and thoughts disappear, even for a fraction of a second? Imagine if we gave ourselves permission to do that throughout the day. If we did, we can regulate some of our stress a lot easier.
We’ve conditioned ourselves to chase our running thoughts throughout the day. We tell ourselves, we must do tasks A, B and C before we can rest, but the truth is, those tasks will never end. Soon tasks D, E, F and G will creep up and then there’s A1, B1 and C1 tasks that come out of nowhere.
The key is to train ourselves to break free from those conditioned thoughts of the future. Letting go of control over the future has been a lifesaver for me, and a simple practice of mindfulness is something I attempt at daily.
How do we become mindful and let go of control?
Bringing awareness that you’re worrying about the future is the first step.
Once you’ve raised that awareness, you now have the choice to take action. The choice to take action, ironically, is the key to letting go of control.
When your mind begins to ruminate, you can say any word in your head to snap out of ruminating. I use words like, stop, ruminating, only thoughts!, or not true to jar myself awake and raise awareness.
What are Micro Moments?
Let’s face it, when kids are screaming and work’s piling up, having time isn’t always realistic.
Look for what I call micro-moments. What are micro-moments? These are the little pockets of alone time you get to yourself. For me, this is first thing in the morning when I wake up and see the sun rise, or hear the sound of rain pitter-pattering on my deck. I love this morning moment to myself. Before I get out of bed, I turn on 5-10 minutes of meditation music and sit quietly with myself, focussed only on the now. I hear the rain, the birds chirping or the sound of my breath. Sometimes, I hear the sound of my phone ping with a new text, but that’s all I do with it. I hear it and acknowledge the text, without reacting to it or thinking about who it came from.
Other micro-moments can be sitting on the toilet! As silly as this sounds, it’s a rare time we get to be alone! How about bath time, or a time when you can go for a walk. While waiting in line at the supermarket, or being stuck in traffic, pay attention to the sights, sounds and smell in your surroundings instead of worrying about things beyond your control in the future. All it takes is 5-10 minutes each day (or more if you manage to find more of those micro-moments), and you’ll soon notice a sense of renewal.
If we practice being mindful of the present on a regular basis, we have the ability to re-condition our brain so that we no longer need to chase our running thoughts. We develop a stronger radar system when our thoughts start to run and we can re-calibrate back to the now, and allow our minds to focus only on the task at hand, letting go of control.
In summary, the simple act of awareness that our mind is busy running, and finding micro-moments throughout the day to practice mindfulness on a regular basis is a craft that can bring great relief to our busy lives. These simple practices have helped me find a lighter step in my home and work life, allowing me to see the pure joy in what I already have in front of me.
You can learn more tips and tools on mindfulness in my resource guide.